Whether it's time for a break from the sea, the weather is bad or you're inspired to acquaint yourself with the artists who lived and worked on the Riviera, there's a wealth of fine art museums scattered across the region. Many of the museums are housed in the original homes and studios of the artists, affording a unique perspective on the works created at the time.
Not all of these works are owned by the museum however! The most celebrated paintings created by Matisse, Picasso, Signac, Bonnard and other Riviera artists are in major museums elsewhere. Although there are plenty of paintings on display, visiting their creative spaces is as much about entering into the artist's life as it is about viewing their paintings.
In addition to the museums, there are also several works that were created as local tributes and these are highly worthwhile. Matisse's chapel in Vence, Chagall's mosaic for the Vence cathedral, Picasso's mural for the chateau in Vallauris are musts on any art-lovers itinerary.
Those interested in contemporary art need look no further than Nice's MAMAC (Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporaine) and the Maeght (pronounced Meg) Foundation in St-Paul-de-Vence. Both museums have permanent collections that extend beyond the Riviera artists and regularly host prestigious exhibitions displaying the best of modern and contemporary art.
Day One: Art Museums in Nice
When: Any day but Monday (MAMAC closed) or Tuesday (Chagall and Matisse museums closed)
How: The three major art museums in Nice are easy to see in one day and you don't need a car. In fact, it's better to take a bus as free parking is scarce.
Itinerary: Take bus 22 or 15 to the Chagall Museum in tree-lined Cimiez. The modernity of the museum is a sharp contrast to the biblical scenes within! After the visit, board the 15 bus again, taking it uphill to the Matisse Museum where the master and his wife lived and worked until his death. After the visit take bus 17 to Pont Barla or Delfy where there are a number of lunch options to fuel up before visiting nearby MAMAC which has an entire collection devoted to Nice School of artists.
Day Two: Museums and Monuments of Vence, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
When: Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat any month but November (Chapel closed Friday and Sunday, November)
How: A car is most convenient but it is possible to do by bus by watching the timing carefully. I recommend a visit to the Maeght Foundation in the morning as the uphill climb is easier in the cooler hours.
Itinerary: From Nice take bus 400 to Saint-Paul-de-Vence. From the bus stop, walk uphill (steep) to the Maeght Foundation and its first-rate collection of modern and contemporary art. Take time to stroll the outdoor sculptures and fountains. After the visit board bus 400 to the town centre of Vence. Visit the Vence Cathedral, aiming for the Chagall mosaic in the baptistery. Walk 500m uphill to the Chapelle du Rosaire, entirely decorated by Matisse. Try to arrive no later than 3.30pm to assure time for a visit before closing time at 5.30pm. Return to Nice on the 400 bus.
Day Three: Museums and Monuments of Antibes and Vallauris
When: Any day but Monday (Picasso museum closed) and Tuesday (Vallauris chateau closed)
How: A car is most convenient but this is doable by bus. Note that the return trip from Vallauris does not leave from the town center.
Itinerary: It's Picasso day! Drive or take a bus 200 from Nice to Antibes for the Picasso Museum, housed in the fortified chateau where he once lived and worked. After the visit, drive or take bus 5 from the Antibes train station to central Vallauris. Head to the Chateau in the Old Town for a visit to the Roman Chapel, decorated with Picasso's monumental mural, War and Peace. Return to Nice on bus 200 from Vallauris-La Gabelle
Day Four: Museums of Biot and Le Cannet
When: Any day but Monday
How: To scoop up these last two museums, a car is necessary as buses are wildly inconvenient between Biot and Le Cannet, which is outside Cannes.
Itinerary: The fortified hill village of Biot makes an interesting visit, especially for those in the market for pottery. The Leger Museum was created at the initiative of his widow, Nadia, and constructed on property owned by the painter. With 348 works, it provides an excellent overview of Leger's work. The Bonnard Museum in Le Cannet opened in 2011 in a restored early 20th-century village. After soaking up the painter's work, pick up the free leaflet that sets out a short driving itinerary that allows you to visit some of the nearby landscapes he painted.
Museums on the Cote d'Azur are rarely crowded. The only exception would be the opening of a major exhibit in MAMAC or the Maeght Foundation.
Admission to Nice museums is based on a €10 museum pass. Read more.
Admission prices to other regional museums range from €5 (Bonnard Museum) to €14 (Maeght Foundation)
Opening hours range from around 10am to 6pm. Art museums in Nice are closed Tuesday, except for MAMAC which is closed Monday. Art museums elsewhere usually opt for a Monday closing.
Explanatory material is usually in French only.
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